Ruadhan Jones (CricketEurope)
On May 26th, the Northern Knights undertook a 266 mile journey to get to their first IP20 match of the season.
Their trip lasted six hours, but it is still nothing compared with the journey Munster cricket took to get there. It was 17 years since Munster’s last Interprovincial match, and only one member of that team, Ted Williamson, survived the transition, in the capacity of head coach.
A generation of cricketers had gone without interprovincial cricket, forced to leave the province to fulfil their ambitions. When the inter-pros were re-introduced, Munster spent six years watching from the sidelines as the other provinces got their chances.
With this in mind, May 26th was awaited with eager anticipation, not just by the Munster players, but by the clubs, the supporters, former players, and administrators. Through twitter and their website, Munster implored supporters to create a “sea of red”. The import of this fixture was only increased by it’s position as a List-A match.
Therefore, if you arrived at the Mardyke at the appointed start time, and wondered why such an important fixture was scheduled in May, you could be forgiven for your confusion.
The weather was hardly summerlike, without a hint of sun or summer heat. Instead of a “sea of red”, we got a “mist of grey”, and this remained throughout the match, occasionally thickening to produce showers and more prolonged spells of rain.
A soggy outfield and sodden ball made life difficult for the bowlers, and bad light and rain combined for a bathetic conclusion. But despite the conditions, the calendar didn’t lie, so the two captains, Stephan Grobler and James Shannon, emerged for the toss: Grobler won and decided to bowl.
Shannon and Michael Gilmour opened for the Knights, and strode to the crease to a polite applause, but the biggest cheers were reserved for the home team. The game began quietly as Harry Tector (2-17/2) conceded just six off the first over.
But this was a level of parsimony which eluded the Munster attack for much of the game’s first half. Max Neville (2-22/3) opened from the other end and the two openers quickly looked more comfortable with pace on the ball.
Both Neville and Aaron Cawley (1-35/3) showed in passages the promise which has propelled them into the Munster team, but too often over-pitched and were punished on a ground with short boundaries straight. Even the first wicket (Gilmour 10, ct Anders, b Neville) was a full toss, and by the end of the first six, the Knights were 59-2, with the accelerator firmly pressed.
Despite the loss of Shannon for 14, Dennison (33) and McCarter (25) played with complete freedom, sharing a partnership of 50 in just 5 overs. Given the bowlers’ struggles and the batsmen’s dominance, it was a relief when Cawley dismissed Dennison in the fifth over with an excellent delivery. But the crowd’s cheers were cut short when they noticed the umpire with his arm outstretched to signal a no-ball. But both batsmen fell in quick succession to Tector, and the game appeared to play in fast-forward. Grobler (3-12/3) brought himself on in the eleventh over, and immediately claimed two wickets.
The Knights subsided from 92-3 to 119-8, and the crowd sensed the sudden shift in momentum, and the Munster team were buoyed. However, now as later, rain intervened to spoil their fun, and the innings closed on 123 for 8 after just 15 overs. The fielders were excellent in difficult conditions, with Grassi setting the standard with two stumpings.
When Jack Tector and Stephan Grobler emerged in the gloom, the target was a chase-able 121 in 15 overs. The target seemed all the more attainable when Grobler and Tector shared a 30 run stand in just 4 overs.
Tector played the ideal t-20 innings, mixing the orthodox with the audacious as he unfurled glorious cover-drives and dil-scoops in equal measure. Jack reached the game’s only fifty off 34 balls, and was the shining light of Munster’s batting performance.
When Grobler got out, Munster were ahead on the DL, and sitting pretty, but the Knights are an experienced side and in Kidd and Mulder they have a former and a current Ireland spinner: their introduction saw the loss of three wickets as Munster’s middle order struggled in trying conditions.
With the two Tectors together, the target was a difficult sixty in six overs, and they were not getting value for their shots on a saturated outfield. With the Knight’s bowling tightly, boundaries were few and far between. Conditions were not improving, and nervous eyes turned to DL requirements when Jack got out for 59 out of 85: Munster were behind.
There were still 29 runs required with the 14th over due to begin, but with the Knights having to return to seam, and the ball more akin to soap than leather, they might… mightn’t they?
But this became academic when the umpires halted the game for bad light. Crowd and players awaited the inevitable as the clouds refused to lift, and the umpires eventually called the game off. It was a drab conclusion to what had been an excellent cricket match.
Both teams shook hands and disappeared into their changing rooms, to reflect on their respective first performances. Munster could take heart from the fact that, although they had underperformed, they still should have beaten the Knights.
For the Knight’s, they had done what was expected of them, and made the long journey home that bit easier.
But it was a frustrating day for Munster supporters who had waited so long for it. Whether their team chased the runs or not wasn’t the issue: not getting the chance to do either was what galled. But that is cricket, and everyone could take heart in their teams debut performance: onwards and upwards, we hope.